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COVID-19 Racial Disparities In Allegheny County Increased After Early Summer Surge In Cases

Mary Altaffer
Registered nurse Stephanie Mundo conducts a COVID-19 test at the Abyssinian Baptist Church on Wednesday, May 13, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.

Data from the Allegheny County Health Department show that racial disparities in COVID-19 cases increased after the early summer surge of infections.

Before the surge, Black residents were twice as likely as white residents to be infected with coronavirus. Now Black residents are nearly three times as likely to be infected. Hospitalizations also saw an increase in racial disparities. 

Dr. Debra Bogen, the health department’s director, said during a press conference Wednesday that while the county has done a good job of testing in Black communities, more work needs to be done through outreach, education and making sure people have personal protective equipment.

“Many organizations in town are working [on this],” she said. “It takes working across organizations…the health department is just one piece…this is really a communitywide effort to reduce those disparities and prevent the spread in higher risk communities.”  

Because Black people in Allegheny County are more likely to be low-income, they’re also more likely to use public transportation, live in multigenerational households, and be frontline workers. All these are risk factors for contracting COVID-19.

Bogen also addressed recent national reports that scammers have been posing as contact tracers in order to obtain personal information.

“It makes me quite angry that people take advantage of others’ vulnerabilities, making the public skeptical, and making it harder those preforming this truly essential task of contact tracing,” she said.

Part of the confusion is that contact tracers and scammers both reach out to members of the public through the telephone. It’s a “red flag” if someone claiming to be a contact tracer asks for a social security number or any financial information, including a bank account or credit card number.

“If you are asked about money or any financial information of any kind, please hang up and notify your local police,” Bogen said. “This is not the health department calling you.”

Contact tracers will ask for the spelling of your name, as well as your home mailing address and email. They will also inquire about your health, if you need any resources, and if they can enroll you into the state’s contact tracing software, called Sara Alert.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.